ray charles vs mohammed abdel wahab
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Arab Today, arab today
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Last Updated : GMT 07:25:12
Arab Today, arab today

Ray Charles vs Mohammed Abdel Wahab

Arab Today, arab today

ray charles vs mohammed abdel wahab

Mohammed Aboul Fotouh

My friend, the poet Ahmed al-Bendary, advised me to watch a biography movie about the Jazz singer Ray Charles. I downloaded the movie, switched off the light in my room and I was completely indulged in the life of Ray Charles, the blind genius artist.  Seriously, it was a very inspiring experience; his iron will, that strong passion towards life and the confidence in his talent. I saw how a poor blind child can be a world jazz legend, spreading stunning musical inspiration and legendry voice which is a blend between calmness and cosiness on one hand and strength and sharpness - to the extent of shouting on the other. It was as if a soul had discovered the meaning of existence. From that moment, I became infatuated with him. I started searching for his recorded songs and concerts on YouTube and even memorised some of the lyrics of his songs. Even now I croon over them: Hit the road Jack And don’t you come back No more, no more No more, no more It was this song in particular that I loved, “Hit the road Jack” – I would say one of his masterpieces. However over time, I felt something familiar thing whenever I listened to it, as if I had heard something similar before. I started to concentrate on the main melody and finally discovered that, yes I had indeed heard it before, but this time in an Arabic musical masterpiece.  “Ya Qalby ya Khaly” – (Oh, My Empty Heart), sung by Abdel Halim Hafez and composed by Mohammed Abdel Wahab was the song I had in mind. I was aware that had Abdel Wahab had previously borrowed melodies from Western music to compose his, this was no secret - but I assumed it to only be classic music, for example using Tchaikovsky in his song  "Al Qamh" ( The Wheat) or the use of Beethoven in his song "Aheb Eshet Al Horreya" ( I love Living Freely). I was beyond excited when I discovered this so I rushed onto YouTube to listen to “Oh, My Empty Heart” and yes, my intuition was right. It was indeed the same musical phrase which Ray Charles used as an intro to his song. Moreover, after accurate examining, I discovered how Abdel Wahab was able to use the foreign melody in a very genius way. Firstly, in the foreign song, the brass instruments played one ornament composed of one tone to respond to the vocal every now and then. Abdul Wahab used the same concept in replying to the vocal with one or two tones from the beginning of the Arabic song but using string instruments, with slight changes. Secondly, we find in the foreign song a female choir responds to Ray Charles, this chorus was one of his innovations and it accompanied him in his songs. It usually repeats a part of the song or its members exchange singing with him, for example we find in the mentioned song, the chorus repeats a small part “No More, No More”. It is something like a dialogue. Abdel Wahab did the same thing. He inserted a female chorus into his song and this chorus repeated “Leh, leh, leh” (Why, Why, Why). The mentioned example allows us to see the ingenuity of Mohammed Abdel Waahab in borrowing; he did not borrow musical phrases only, but also the philosophy of the melody. From my part, I cannot judge whether it is stealing or not? Whilst researching, I also found an interesting point in the biography of Egyptian artist Badeaa Sadeq. For those who do not know of her, she sang in films “Si Omar” (Master Omar) in 1941 and “Leylat Haz” (Lucky night) 1945 acted and sang in many operettas with Abdel Ghany al Sayed and Shahrzad. It was this particular story from her biography that really caught my attention - “My father told me the story more than once. Artists working in this period were being paid, especially that they created patriotic songs. My father said to me at this time: “We did not have money to buy milk for you and you were still a baby. I really did not know what to do, staying at home with working would not solve the problem and I thought about going out in the streets without a specific purpose, however, perhaps when I got out of home, God would solve this crisis.” He walked in the streets and met one of his friends who worked in a musical band. He told him: “Ahmed, is not this your melody?” and he hummed a melody from “Oh, my empty heart.” My father replied: “Yes, it is mine.” His friend said: “We have just recorded it in the studio with Abdel Wahab and he said it is his melody.” My father went to Abdel Wahan and told him the melody is his. Abdel Wahab did not deny this and gave my father 350 Egyptian pounds to calm him, which was a fairly large amount in that time. My father was very happy and he bought all the things he needed for us such as milk and food. My father took the money, but the artistic community then knew that the melody belonged to Ahmed Ali and the great composer, Mohammed Abdel Wahab had taken it from him, or in other words “borrowed it.” Badeaa Sadeq’s words end here and I have to admit it is a very dangerous story, if it is true. It is a summary that Abdel Wahab did not exert any effort in the melody which he alleged to be his, he had stolen it as well as the introduction from the magical Western spirit which was very suitable for a young singer, such as Abdel Halim Hafez at this time. Even the philosophy of the new song, which is represented in the lively female choir and the use of individual tones in a rapid response to the singer, are not the creation of Abdel Wahab. So maybe he only did exert a slight effort of intelligence and professionalism in order to take advantage of the foreign song which an American blind artist tried some day to compose and to which he was crowned as the King of Jazz. --- The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arabstoday.

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